Nirvana never played CBGB because their agent demanded an additional $300 to perform, CBGB Festival organizer Louise Parnassa-Staley revealed to Krist Novoselic during the musician and political activist’s keynote speech at the CBGB Festival in New York on Thursday.
“Corporate rock whores, we were,” Nirvana’s former bassist joked. “Bye-bye, anarchism.”
Novoselic’s appearance at Landmark Sunshine Cinema kicked off the four-day, 300-band celebration of the club that birthed much of the Bowery’s unsigned talent until it closed in 2006. The former bassist spent an hour discussing Kurt Cobain (“He deserved a fulfilling life,” he told the crowd), the bands that inspired him to pick up the bass guitar (among them, CBGB legends Talking Heads, Blondie and the Ramones), and how he transitioned from music to politics as chairman of FairVote, a not-for-profit group working to reform elections and increase turnout by calling on greater transparency in federal election spending, confronting voter suppression and supporting a “right to vote” Constitutional amendment.
“I’m not a crusader,” he insisted several times. “I don’t want to be a celebrity change agent. People have to decide for themselves.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone before his keynote speech, Novoselic said he first became politically aware at 19 in Aberdeen, Washington, when he voted for Democrat Walter Mondale over President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Most recently, Novoselic chaired his county’s Democratic Party until leaving in 2009. “I was disillusioned. I got tired of volunteering for a Super PAC. It wasn’t a grassroots organization. It could be if the other Democrats wanted it to be, but I wasn’t getting a very good value for my time and energy. So I’m an Independent now,” he said, adding he will support candidates from all political parties this year.
As for music, Novoselic rarely plays bass these days and admits he became “obsessed” last year with learning the Doors’ “Light My Fire” on the accordion Cobain gave him years ago. “I got that whole solo part,” he said. “My inner [Ray] Manzarek is being channeled.”
Novoselic also alluded to working again with Dave Grohl, with whom he last collaborated on a song for the Foo Fighters’ album Wasting Light. “I think there’s something cooking,” he said. “Ask Dave.” (At press time, Grohl’s management had not responded to a request for comment.)